Allawi: Considering Arab Troops
George Stephanopoulos interviewed Iyad Allawi on Sunday and did what I thought was an excellent job. He pressed Allawi on the issue of Muqtada al-Sadr, and received the response that al-Sadr and the Mahdi Army might well be amnestied if they cooperate with the caretaker government and seek to join the system. Since trying to exclude the Sadrists from Iraqi politics would be a recipe for disaster down the road, Allawi’s response seemed measured and promising. (Of course, Muqtada may decline the offer, but then the responsibility will lie with him).
Allawi startled me by not ruling out the use of Jordanian troops in Iraq. Jordan and Yemen both recently offered troops to Iraq. Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari had replied with the standard position of the old Interim Governing Council, which was that Iraq declined troops from neighboring countries (Iran, Turkey, Syria, Jordan, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia). But Allawi in his interview did not reject Jordanian forces. He also seemed especially warm toward Syria and Egypt, and in other words was talking like an old-style Arab nationalist in regional terms.
The security disaster in Iraq, which was created by the ineptitude and overweening ambition of the United States, is extremely worrying to other countries in the region. Fallujah and other Iraqi centers of radical Islamism and radical Arab nationalism could easily spill over into Jordan and Palestine. In short, you could have a Fallujah axis that stretched from Iraq’s Sunni heartland to Zarqa, Irbid and Maan in Jordan, and thence to the West Bank and Gaza. Jordan’s King Abdullah II sits on a shakey throne allied with the United States and Israel. Over half his population is Palestinian as opposed to East Bank Arabs (often of Bedouin ancestry). If the Fallujan insurgents managed to set up cells in predominantly Palestinian cities like Irbid or in Salafi centers like Maan in Jordan and coordinate, it could destabilize the kingdom. Jordan’s most vigorous dissident politics wells up from the Muslim Brotherhood and the Salafis, the same kind of ideology predominating in Fallujah.
So, King Abdullah II would presumably like nothing better than to have Jordan troops interposing themselves between Fallujah and Jordan, and in a position to prevent radical Islamists from extending their reach from Iraq west. (Some of the radicals operating in Iraq, like Abu Musab al-Zarqawi and his al-Tawhid, of course, originate in Jordan to begin with). The Americans have allowed Fallujah and Ramadi to develop in this direction, and appear to be impotent in stopping it.
Likewise Yemen must be terrified of blowback from Iraq. Some of its traditionally moderate Shiites, the Zaidis, have taken a radical turn lately. A virulently anti-American Zaidi preacher, Sheikh al-Houti, has created a clandestine militia and political network in his area, 200 miles north of Sanaa. I suppose the Yemeni governing fears that there is a danger of the ideas of Muqtada al-Sadr becoming influential among Zaidis. Whereas Khomeinism in the 1980s tended not to exercise much influence among sects of Shiism other than the Twelvers that predominate in Iran and Iraq, in the past ten years the Sadr movement has become influential with the heterodox Turkmen in northern Iraq, and it is not impossible that radical Iraqi Shiism will have an effect on other sects of Shiism, including the Zaids, the Syrian Alawis, and the Turkish Alevis. Likewise, Yemen has suffered from al-Qaeda’s brand of terrorism, and radical Sunni Islamism is influential among some tribes and in some cities. Yemen’s government is committed to old-style secular Sunni Arab nationalism of the sort that was discredited by Abdel Nasser’s defeat in 1967 at the hands of the Israelis and by the US swift destruction of the Baath regime in Iraq. Yemenis are clearly looking around for some radical alternative, and the ones now based in Iraq are not so far away. That Iraqi radicals oppose the US also gives them anti-imperial credentials, making them popular in many quarters.
So it is not at all surprising that the countries in Iraq’s neighborhood opposed rash US action in that country to begin with, and now fear that the chaos in Iraq will reach out in a wave of destabilization that will bring not democracy by religious radicalism and terrorism. For secular Sunni Arab regimes facing this threat, an obvious response is to commit their own troops in Iraq to shore up the caretaker government and disrupt terrorist networks.